There are some Sunday school teachers from 50-plus years ago who may be shocked to learn that the chunky smart aleck who made them question the value of their efforts really did learn something.
Though I was often (trying to be) too cool to show it, I enjoyed the lessons about the people of the Bible. I found comfort in the fact that the people God chose to carry out His work probably would not have been stellar Sunday school students either.
One of my favorite Bible characters is Barnabas. His birth name was Joseph, but after he became a follower of Jesus friends called him Barnabas, which means "Son of Encouragement."
Barnabas was a behind-the-scenes guy who didn't get nearly as much recognition as Peter and John and the other guys.
Barnabas' role as an encourager, however, played a critically important role in the growth of the young church. He encouraged the heavy hitters but he also encouraged young people, like his cousin John Mark who got off to a rocky start and later became an effective leader.
The reason I admire Barnabas, I believe, is because I have benefited greatly from encouragers in my life particularly as a youngster but also as an adult.
I believe that we are blessed to be a blessing, so I have tried to encourage others over the years. My friend and co-worker, Tom, and I were advisers for a Junior Achievement company in Sioux City many years ago. While some of the high school students involved were there only to socialize, one young man stood out. Tom and I, only in our 20s ourselves, quickly recognized his potential.
After this bright young man graduated from high school and left for college, he occasionally stopped by our offices during Christmas break and summer vacation. It was always good to see him.
One day the student, by now a tall, well groomed young adult, poked his head in my office and said, "Arvid, I stopped by to say thanks." When I asked, "For what?" he explained that the encouragement Tom and I gave him during his time in Junior Achievement had given him the motivation he needed to get through college and grad school. He had just earned his Ph.D. and was now on the faculty at Stanford University.
"I just wanted to say thanks for your encouragement," he said. This bright young man would undoubtedly have done very well with out Tom and me, but it was sure nice to hear his thank you.
Since that visit in Sioux City this young man has gone on to national prominence as a nutritionist. Now in his 50s, he has published scores of papers and books on the subject and I see him occasionally on national TV news programs. In an e-mail exchange a few years ago I was pleased to learn he is still the same great guy Tom and I worked with in Sioux City.
While serving as director of the Iowa Newspaper Foundation a decade ago I traveled the state and visited member newspapers. At one newspaper office, I was introduced to a young woman who was new in advertising sales and was really struggling. I sat down with her and offered her some tips and encouragement.
Frankly, I had forgotten the incident until I saw the young woman a few years later and she reminded me of our visit. "You're the reason I'm still in the business," she said. "The fact that you took time to visit with me and share some ideas gave me the encouragement I needed to stick with it."
All it took was a little time and attention to encourage this young woman.
As I grow older I look for opportunities to encourage others, particularly younger people. I recall the struggles of my younger years and find joy in encouraging younger folks who are going through some of those and other struggles.
We can't all be a Simon Peter and the foundation of a new worldwide church, but we all can be a Barnabas and encourage someone else.
Look around you. Someone you know could use some encouragement from you today.
Be a Barnabas.